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A Key to Fourth Century Inscriptions

The image at upper right is of an inscription on a shield held by two Victories facing each other on the reverse of a coin of Magnentius. The inscription proclaims that this emperor has paid his five - year vows and hopes to be around to pay them when they become due during the tenth year of his reign.

The reverse inscriptions on Roman coins of the mid to latter Fourth Century AD generally fall into two categories. Most of the coins with a wreath reverse also carry an inscription commemorating the payment by the emperor of his five yearly vows. Other coins had an allegorical figure of a traditional virtue or idea held in high esteem by the Romans (such as Victory or the Republic) and an inscription expressing the ideal symbolized by the figure. Coins extolling the glory of Rome or her army, the health of the Republic, or Victory in various contexts were struck in quantities running into the hundreds of millions. Though they are at least 1600 years old, they are still plentiful, quite inexpensive, interesting, and amongst the most popular coins collected. An additional benefit is that they have a truly valid place in any classroom where ancient history, art, or the language of political propaganda are apt to be studied.

Some reverse inscriptions that you might find on small Fourth Century Roman bronze coins include the ones listed in the table below. the list is by no means complete. For a much more complete study of the different variations of reverse inscriptions and which mints struck them during which emperors' reigns, consult Late Roman Bronze Coinage by Carson, Hill, and Kent. A reprint of this work is available from time to time from the publishing house of Sanford J. Durst. Though the information in this work is highly abbreviated and presented as a series of tables organized by minting city, the work has proven an extremely valuable one to the author in his attributing of these odd little bits of bronze.

Some Common Fourth Century Latin Coin Inscriptions and their Translations
GLORIA ROMANORVM Glory of the Romans
FIDES EXERCITVS Loyalty of the Army
SECVRITAS REIP Security of the Republic
SECVRITAS REIPVBLICE Security of the Republic
RESTITVTOR REIP Restorer of the Republic
VOT V MVLT X (or variants) Rough translation --Five Year Vows Are Paid, Anticipating the Next Five Years to Be Good Ones For the Empire
PROVIDENTIAE CAESS roughly, A Caesar Has Been Given
CONCORDIA AVGG (or AVGGG) Agreement Amongst the Augusti (Co - Emperors)
FEL TEMP REPARATIO Return of the Good Times
SALVS REIPVBLICE Health to the Republic
VOT PVB Public Vows
DN Abbreviation for DOMINI NOSTER, Our Lord
CAES Caesar
CAESS Both Caesars
AVG Abbreviation of Augustus, or Emperor
AVGG Both Augusti
AVGGG All Three Augusti (Number of G's equals number of emperors. This is useful for close dating a coin within a reign or telling the Theodosius I from Theodosius II and Valentinian I from Val II and III coins.

There are many more variants than these. You will find the standard reference works including the British Museum Catalogue, Carson, Hill, and Kent, and the volumes of the Roman Imperial Coinagewill come in handy when you start seriously attributing the harder ones. Here is one example sof how one might use the legend to help attribute the coin:

A common coin has a pearl diademmed head facing right on the obverse, and two soldiers with two standards on the reverse. The obverse inscription reads CONSTANTINVSIVNNOBC (no spaces) and the reverse reads GLOR IAEXERC ITVS. Under the line on which the soldiers are standing (a place called the exergue of the coin) there are the letters SMKA right close to the bottom of the coin. The coin is about the size of a U. S. one cent piece.

This is a coin of the ruler Constantine the second. The obverse legend reads, with the break above the head closed up and with spaces inserted for us to expect to see divisions between words, DN CONSTANTINVS IVN NOB C. This translates pretty closely to:

DN = Domini Noster = Our lord CONSTANTINVS = Constantine IVN = approximately "the younger" meaning Constantine the Second or the son of Constantine I NOB = Nobilissimus = most highly regarded C = Caesar = (at this time in history) junior partner to the emperor.

The Romans believed in using abbreviations to the maximum. (In fact, during the Republican times, a sign of Roman citizenship was the required abbreviation of the first name when used in official correspondence or on monuments.) The letters in the exergue of the coin constitute the mintmark and they translate:

SM = Sacra Moneta, which is a carryover from the period of worship of the Olympian deities. The coining of bronze was traditionally done in the temple of Juno Moneta. SM is a part of the mintmark found on bronze coins.

K stands for Kyzicus or Cyzicus or Kyzikos, a city in modern Turkey (Asia Minor)

A is the Greek letter alpha and is the letter designation of the Officina, the particular workshop within the mint.

Remember that part or all of the legends and inscriptions may be missing. This should not seriously diminish the fun of collecting or the validity of the coin's place in your collection. The author has many nice coins that he could not fully attribute (Identify as to ruler, type, mint, and other information). He would not readily part with these because he can attribute them to a certain period and general type. He can usually narrow them down to a couple or a few contemporary emperors. In addition, they may have a rare reverse variant or other interesting features.

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Identifying Common Fourth Century Roman Bronze Coins
A Picture Gallery of Fourth Century Reverse Types
Camp Gate
Altar Inscribed VOTIS XX
Two Soldiers Standing With Two Standards
Two Soldiers Holding One Standard
Wreath With Legend Inside
Soldier Spearing a Fallen Horseman
VRBS ROMA Commemorative - Mother Wolf Suckling Twins Romulus and Remus
CONSTANTINOPOLIS Commemorative - Victory Standing on Prow of Ship
Two Victories Each Holding a Small Wreath
Emperor Holding Labarum or Standard and Dragging Captive
Victory Advancing Left
A Key to Fourth Century Inscriptions
Some Scarcer Late Fourth Century and early Fifth Century Types

All New! More image galleries of late Roman bronze types.

Camp Gate
Altar with Votis, Victories with Wreath
FEL TEMP REPARATIO, Soldier Spearing Fallen Horseman
More FEL TEMP, including Barbarian and Hut tupes
Victory Advancing Left Holding Wreath
Emperor Holding Labarum and Dragging Captive